“As my kids would say, Mercedes sales are awfully easy,” a happy Dieter Zetsche announced to the press Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Well, that's what everyone heard him say, but the exact text in Daimler AG chairman and boss of Mercedes-Benz's written script was the term “off-the-heezy,” not “awfully easy.” Some things don’t translate well from American urban slang, but both meanings are correct: Mercedes is making cooler-looking cars (“off-the-heezy” roughly translates to so cool you’ll leave your phone off the hook), and the company’s sales are bright and getting brighter.
The cool look came with the U.S. reveal Monday of a super-sleek S-Class Coupe concept that the company describes as embodying “sensual clarity,” but what Zetsche and his troops were beaming about most was the new C-Class sedan that was shown for the first time Sunday night at a media preview at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit.
The new car is being built at Mercedes’ plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and was designed and developed with American buyers a priority. Since Mercedes has sold nearly 90,000 C-Class models last year in the U.S., “based on volume along, the C-Class is our most important car,” said Zetsche.
The new C-Class is a mid-size, top-luxury five-seat sedan, that first showed up in the U.S. back in 1983 as the 190, or “baby Benz” as Detroiters recall. The new car is a few inches longer than the previous C-Class, although about half of its all-new body is constructed of aluminum, making it lighter as well as stronger, claims Mercedes.
It also features multiple personalities: For one, there are two available grilles, one brimming with the bling of a hood ornament and overly chromed grille, and one a subdued, understated Mercedes shape. For another, the suspension uses air springs, chosen because they can be tailored to conditions, giving either a soft, cushy ride or firm and more responsive handling. Zetsche describes the interior as class-leading, “just as the first class differs from economy on an airplane.”
Gadgetry is taken a notch higher in the new C-Class, with a new “semi-autonomous” steering assist system as an option that will allow the car to follow a car in front. It’s a first for the class, said Thomas Weber, head of research and development for Mercedes-Benz. Other innovations trickle down from Mercedes’ top-line S-Class, including an optional self-perfuming interior. Weber also said that the C-Class, to be offered initially with all-wheel-drive in 2014, and powered by four- and six-cylinder engines, would offer a plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid version soon.